Exploring the Saadiyat Cultural District in Abu Dhabi

In 2006, the Abu Dhabi government proposed the development of a monumental cultural district in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The announcement detailed plans to build the new district just off the coast on Saadiyat Island – the “Island of Happiness” – complete with several world-class museums, exhibitions, arts schools and more.

From religious and cultural festivals to art shows and live performances, Abu Dhabi has historically attracted some of the world’s best and brightest artists, musicians, intellectuals and more. Emerging as a popular travel destination, the Saadiyat Cultural District will ultimately help the UAE establish the capital city as a global hub for the arts, culture and tourism.

So far, the region has successfully opened Manarat Al Saadiyat, meaning “a place of enlightenment” in Arabic.

Since 2009, this futuristic arts and culture centre has served as the island’s visitor centre and held the annual Abu Dhabi Art Fair, along with a variety of exhibitions, workshops and live performances.

Several years later, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, announced the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, the new Louvre sits under an iconic dome finished with mesmerizing honeycomb-shaped patterns made of stainless steel.

The world-renowned museum is a result of an agreement signed between the French and UAE governments and marks both France’s largest cultural project abroad and the first universal museum in the Arab World.

Following the announcement, the UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development commented, “People from every corner of the world will visit Louvre Abu Dhabi… It represents the latest innovation in a long-standing tradition of cultural awareness and appreciation nurtured by the leaders of the UAE.”

During the UAE’s “Year of Tolerance” in 2019, the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity was formed and revealed their very first project – to bring the Abrahamic Family House to Abu Dhabi’s cultural district.

Slated to open in 2022, the Abrahamic Family House will serve as an interfaith complex featuring a mosque, a church and the first-ever interfaith complex built in the Emirates. With the recent signing of the Abraham Accords, the project not only symbolizes the UAE’s larger commitment to inter-religious dialogue and exchange, but will soon welcome Israeli citizens to Saadiyat where they can worship openly and freely alongside their newfound allies.

Frank Gehry’s long-anticipated Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is also set to open in 2022. Once complete, it will be the largest Guggenheim museum in the world and host a series of exhibitions focused on modern and contemporary art dating all the way back to the 1960s.

The cultural district also plans to house the Zayed National Museum in honor of the UAE’s Founder and First President, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The museum will include the Sheikh Zayed Library, along with a variety of exhibitions focused on the UAE’s cultural heritage and mission for a better future.

Other upcoming developments include the Maritime Museum, a Biennale Park and a premiere Performing Arts Centre. In the meantime, visitors can explore a variety of landmarks and tourist attractions on Saadiyat Island including NYU Abu Dhabi, Berlee Abu Dhabi, St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and the UAE’s Pavilion from the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Read more on the UAE’s emerging art scene and virtual cultural experiences.